I was involved in a lovely event last week which was part of Book Week Scotland (supported by The Scottish Book Trust). Myself and two other writers talked about our memories of Leith. You can read all about it here on the Leith Library blog. Aunty Sue (of the DIY fame) came too. At 87 it was her first library event. She loved it. “You’re never too old to have new experiences,” she said. What do you think?
Here’s a little bit from what I read, which is taken from an article I wrote a few years ago called Refections on Place for a magazine called Writing in Education . I talk about my first trip to the docks with my Leither dad )
In one sweep Dad perched me on the front of his bike. I hardly had time to grip the handlebars before we were off. As we rattled towards the docks, the squaw, squaw, squalling of squawking gulls grew louder and the sea breeze stronger. Traces of salt dried on my cheeks and the air filled with the sour sweet smell of hops and the tang of fresh tar. Within no time the rainbow Port of Leith unfurled before us. Golden schooners with flapping ivory sails jostled next to hulking purple hulls and tiny red tug boats. Cranes creaked. Masts rattled. Hoists squeaked. Hairy ropes groaned and all the while the frothy green-grey Firth of Forth slopped and slapped against the quayside wallls.
With pride, Dad pointed out the Ham and Egg boat from Denmark, the enormous grain ship from Canada, and the sturdy Scottish Coal Boat (chugging out, not coming in). We saw the miraculous swing bridge open its glistening giant arm and an ancient fishing trawler, nets dangling precariously, carry on up the Water of Leith. Further down the bank by a huddle of swans stood a throng of brown-suited men, wearing glasses and frowns. Dad said they were archaeologists. They’d found thousands upon thousands of clam shells on the shore. Proof, Dad said, that people had lived in Leith since the Stone Age. Then came a big treat, a visit to the Sea Breeze Café and my first ever chocolate biscuit wrapped in foil…
The Sea Breeze was a humid, nicotine stained world within a world: an onion Johnny with a string of yellowing onions draped around his neck talked to a bearded lady; cologne-drenched sailors in real Popeye trousers laughed with ruby-lipped women, who where dressed to go out for the night at nine in the morning; a drunken man fell flat on his face, only to get up again to the enthusiastic cheers of the sweet-toothed tea drinkers. Everyone and anyone seemed welcome at the docks. Spending time there was like being with an exciting friend. And when later in the afternoon Dad returned me to my monochrome life the colours and sights and smells I’d seen pumped through my veins and charged my imagination. This was a place, as Ernest Hemingway said about the world in “For Whom The Bells Toll”, which was worth fighting for.
PS: Last week we started working on Aunty Sue’s bathroom and by this time next week I hope to show you photos of the finished product! It’s still not costing anywhere near the quoted £7200, although it is taking longer than anticipated and even when Aunty Sue isn’t around it’s difficult not to eat